New York Yankees' and Boston Red Sox's 0-3 Start Is No Reason to Panic

Steven GoldmanMLB Lead BloggerApril 9, 2012

Douglas Adams said it all.
Douglas Adams said it all.

The Yankees and Red Sox are both 0-3, each having been swept in their opening series. This would seem to be an insignificant bit of information—there are 159 games to go, after all—if not for the fact that it’s a bit unusual. The last time both clubs opened up 0-3 was 1966.

That Lyndon Johnson year was a great one for music, with Revolver, Pet Sounds, Blonde on Blonde, Face to Face, Aftermath and more (I am not even going to identify which artists released those albums—if you don’t know, you are hereby recommended for remedial education at the School of Rock), but was a miserable one for the two teams.

The Yankees finished in last place, 10th out of 10 teams with a 70-89 record, with the Red Sox right above them at 72-90.

The Yankees, in the midst of the worst run in team history, stayed rooted in the second division for the next three years and wouldn’t be consistent contenders until the mid-1970s. The Red Sox, however, were about to embark on 1967’s “Impossible Dream” season, in which they won a surprise pennant. The whole reason 1967 was “impossible” was 1966.

The Yankees and Red Sox of 46 years ago share team names with the clubs of today, but the parallels stop there. The Yankees still had Elston Howard, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, but all were past their primes, and there were no other stars to support them—the team’s best player that year was Tom Tresh.

The starting rotation was exceedingly young. Some of its members would go on to good careers, but that was still in the future.

The Red Sox had a stronger pitching staff, but only marginally so. They also had some good hitters in George Scott, Carl Yastrzemski and Tony Conigliaro, but none had their best seasons that year and the team was so weak at the other positions that the overall offense was exceedingly weak.

History does repeat itself, but it isn’t doing so now. The Yankees are old, and their manager is confused (the subject of an upcoming post). The Red Sox didn’t pitch. Both clubs were manhandled by one of the better clubs in the American League.

However, both will give a better accounting of themselves than they did last weekend. In the final analysis, we have seen each club endure a three-game losing streak. If that happened in July, it would be troublesome but unexceptional.

Here at the season’s outset, it’s a cause for panic, though it shouldn’t be. Yes, the Red Sox opened last season in even worse fashion, but that too is irrelevant. These are imperfect clubs, but still deeply talented, and in the end, that’s what matters.

An important consideration here is when a team’s start becomes “real,” which is to say, when does it acquire predictive power? In the new Baseball Prospectus book Extra Innings (put together by yours truly), we examined this question and found that you could predict a team’s final record with a high degree of accuracy by measuring from the 17-game mark.

You could call it 20 if you a problem with prime numbers, or 15 if you don’t mind a slightly lower degree of certainty, but the key takeaway is this—about three weeks into the season is when you should start worrying—or celebrating. You might end up with egg on your face—no system is foolproof, as the Red Sox themselves showed last year—but that egg could also be champagne.

Then again, maybe Joe Girardi will keep walking the bases loaded with one of the best pitchers in baseball on the mound. In that case, all bets are off. These possibilities aside, what you knew this winter and spring is still accurate—this isn’t a movie trailer where we’re “In a world in which everything you know is wrong.”

Until they prove otherwise, for the Yankees and Red Sox this was, as Cole Porter wrote, just one of those things.